The nettle patch in the garden has returned in full force this spring, so much so that I’m planning on digging up a large chunk of it because it’s been steadily encroaching on more and more of the yard every year. But before I hacked away at it, I harvested a few baskets’ worth for freezer nettle pesto. I don’t like canning in the traditional sense that requires boiling and all that, the heat processing can damage the flavor of more bright and delicate ingredients, like the fresh basil and lemon in this pesto, so I much prefer to just throw it in some cans, label them with a piece of tape and the date the pesto was made, and then stack them in the ol’ chest freezer in the garage.
This nettle pesto gets its herbaceous flavor from another seasonal spring flavor, and that’s raw fennel fronds + stems. Most recipes call for fennel bulbs, but they usually have a good amount of stems + fronds attached at the top, so when I’m making this pesto I like to schedule some kind of fennel-based dinner for the same week as my pesto-making, so that nothing goes to waste. (I actually have a fennel roast chicken that I’m going to be sharing here in a week or two, so keep an eye out for that! But in the meantime, this caramelized fennel bulb with goat’s cheese is a real treat.)
I also like my nettle pesto very bright in flavor, so there’s a hefty dose of lemon zest and juice in here, plus a wonderful subtle sweetness from the pistachios. And the nettle adds such a rich savory umami element to the mix. A word on raw nettle, though, it will sting you if it touches your skin, so take care when harvesting it or working with it pre-blanching. Once you blanch the leaves in boiling water for 1 minute, though, it neutralizes the enzyme that causes the stinging sensation, and it’s totally safe to touch and eat (and very delicious, to do so!)
I hope this encourages you to take advantage of the bounty of spring while it’s here 🙂 Oh! And my dear friend Bea Lubas and I have opened enrollment for our Virtual Workshop, and it’s closing in just a few days. I’d love to share more about my creative process and my photography behind-the-scenes with you, you can read more and join us here!
Pistachio Nettle Pesto with Lemon and Fennel
- 3 ounces nettle leaves (8 cups in volume)
- 6 ounces coarsely chopped fennel fronds and stems (3 cups in volume)
- 2 ounces toasted chopped walnuts (about 1/3 cup in volume)
- 3 ounces shelled pistachios (3/4 cup in volume)
- 1 1/2 ounces coarsely chopped basil (about 4 cups in volume)
- 1 ounce grated parmesan cheese (about 1/2 cup in volume)
- finely grated zest of 2 large or 3 small organic lemons
- 1 1/2 ounces garlic cloves, coarsely chopped (about 10 to 12 individual cloves)
- 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil plus 1/4 cup for capping
- 4 8-ounce glass jars
Use gloves whenever touching nettle leaves before they're cooked. Rinse nettle leaves thoroughly under cold water to get rid of any insects, using gloves. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, add a couple tablespoons of salt. Add the nettle to the boiling water and stir to ensure the leaves are covered in the water. Boil for 1 minute, then drain and rinse with cold water.
Grab a handful of the nettle leaves and squeeze them over a bowl to catch excess water. Repeat with all the cooked nettle to press out as much water out as you can. Discard the water, keeping the cooked nettle leaves.
Working in 2 batches with half of the ingredients, pulse all the ingredients except the olive oil inside the bowl of a food processor until coarsely chopped, 6 to 8 times. Then with processor running, add olive oil in a thin steady stream until smooth and combined. Distribute the pesto between jars, then repeat with the remaining half of the ingredients and distribute that between the jars, as well.
Pour a tablespoon of olive oil on top of each of the pesto jars and then seal them with their lids. Use a piece of masking tape and a pen to label the lid with the current date, then place the jars upright in the freezer.
To thaw, place the jar in the refrigerator overnight.